What Is The History Of Paralegals?
Paralegals or legal assistants have become such a regular part of law offices all over the country that it’s difficult to imagine it without them. Lawyers themselves would probably not know how to handle their case loads without paralegals helping them gather research, getting the facts of a case, interviewing witnesses, writing reports and filing briefs and legal documents in court.
Despite the rising demand of paralegals which does not seem to show signs of slowing based on recent government projections in the next few years, it might be interesting to note that the paralegal profession itself is quite new. It has only been in existence for a little over four decades.
In the late 1960s, great strides were made by Congress, the American Bar Association (ABA) and legal firms and bar associations to make legal services more accessible to a greater number of people. As more and more people from all socioeconomic classes began to flock to obtain legal services simultaneously, the cost of complex procedures skyrocketed. This led to the proposal to have educated non-lawyers to take care of certain aspects of legal work that only lawyers used to be able to do. Most of them were experienced legal secretaries who got more training about the law. They were then called by various names including legal assistant, legal technician, lay assistant, paralegal assistant and paralegal.
It was in 1971 when ABA took various steps to professionalize the paralegal profession. One of these was the adoption of the term “legal assistant” by the Standing Committee on Ethics and Responsibility of the ABA to describe those who did the functions of the paralegal.
The Standing Committee was then renamed as the Special Committee on Legal Assistants later that year and, among other reports, provided paralegal training and education guidelines. The committee was again renamed as the Standing Committee on Paralegals and was tasked with matters involving paralegal education and training as well as employment.
It was only in 1986 when the term “legal assistant” was clearly defined by the ABA. The official amended definition of the term sounded similar to how the ABA defined the term back then. Today, the ABA Guidelines defines a legal assistant or paralegal as “a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”
Paralegal professional associations started emerging in the 1970s and then and now, they have played a vital role in enhancing the quality of the legal profession and promoting professionalism among its members. Most of these organizations don’t believe that mandatory regulation is necessary. Rather, they encourage voluntary certification after the paralegal has met stringent requirements.
The paralegal profession has continued to expand today. They can now be found in virtually various industries even if they are still mainly employed by law firms. Paralegals today also help handle legal matters in corporations, educational institutions, nonprofits, government agencies, courts and consulting companies.